A PLAIN STORY, SIMPLY TOLD


Dominica Demtrios was once described by a former English professor as a raindrop clinging to three flowers at once. The professor is an old looking man, though young, who likes to think of himself as a thin black silhouette in a mass of bodies. He is not. He is large and drives a small red car meant for someone else entirely. Dominica has never thought of fucking him. Not once, even when severely depressed, even though he is a tragic figure and Dominica finds tragic figures very appealing.

Dominica's ex-husband says she is a raindrop clinging to three flowers at once needing constantly to be reaffirmed. He is a tall, thin man who likes to listen to live symphony concerts but never knows the appropriate place to clap. Dominica thinks of him as an ironic truism. Dominica has fucked him, but just once, and became pregnant as a result. That baby was a girl. That baby is named Jennifer.

Her current lover described her as an express train leaving Kursk station on a hot summer morning in the year 1900. He was romantic, and smelled like oranges and Irish soap. Dominica met him on an online dating site. They talked on Yahoo chat. Dominica told him they were living in a tragic age, and even to have 'little hopes' was hard work. He said if that was so they might as well date. Dominica agreed.

Her roommate says Dominica has pretty hair. She says this is why Dominica has so many boyfriends. Dominica says it is because she is afraid to be alone. And that she is a 'cataclysm among ruins.' Her roommate says that is terribly romantic sounding. See, Dominica says, next you will be taking me to bed and sending me roses. Her roommate laughs and tosses her short hair.

It is the fall of 2003, and after graduating from the respectable English/Creative Writing program, Dominica is moving to New York.

She already has an agent. He is unscrupulous.

He believes he has been gifted by evolution to be better than other people. He has no significant philosophy of life. He drifts, aimlessly, though he believes most people see him as confidant and ‘put together’ in that tightly-fitting American corporate-sponsored way that keeps bad people employed. He believes people like that kind of attitude in a man. He is very much into being 'a man.' He has no desire for a fulfilling human relationship. His depression and anxiety have been significantly lowered due to a highly effective medication that, when debuted on the market, sent the price of its company stock (a stock he owns) into the realm of ‘this stock can now only be owned by very rich people.’ He does not feel awkward in social situations, and he is always able to convey the correct body language at important cocktail parties that serve to further his career. No one ever misreads his facial expressions. No woman has ever fancied herself in love with him and falsely believed he felt the same way. He has no shame in eating lamb, veal, baby hamsters, or vegetables grown in Guatemala with bacteria-infested waters and harvested with poverty-stricken mountain peasants who are paid the equivalent of one US dollar in a year's time.

She is sure he can make her a success. She is sure he can make her as famous a poet as Bob Dylan or Jewel or that little boy with cancer who wrote poetry in the hospital during his treatments and then went on the ‘Oprah Winfrey’ show.

The move, though, will end up being a mistake, or at least seeming like a mistake at the time and then ending up the right thing but in a weird kind of way that causes much sadness and depression.

Dominica will leave Jennifer behind for two years with the thin man who likes to listen to symphonies but does not know the appropriate place to clap.

At her graduation her English professor pats her on the back and wishes her well but in a way that said he did not really care at all. Not even a little bit. And is consumed wholly instead by his own life, his own wants and needs, given that his parents have died, leaving him an orphan, and he with no kids of his own thinking of how he would never carry on the line. Then his brother dying, of lung cancer, in a hospital room that smelled like vomit. Then his late brother's wife, running over a small child with an automobile in the driveway. And she going nutty over the whole thing and leaving him alone, teaching English/Creative Writing at a small but respectable state college. It was more than he could tolerate. But he went on with the living. He went on with the fucking, though he found no pleasure in it. It is a postmodern irony cast upon him, and everyone knows it.

"I am nearly drowned," he says to her. "I am identified with a bygone cultural movement rather than an identifiable philosophical position. I wanted to be something more."

She does not feel sorry for him. She is sure he can somehow find the strength to endure the knowledge that life is a sad ambiguity, foreshortened by twilight and interspersed with mild adoration from people offering little hope of grandeur. It is what it is, she thinks: fantastical and cruel and beautiful. Surely he can deal with this somehow.

Dominica is going to New York. Dominica is going to be a teacher who cares and 'makes a difference' in the lives of inner city youth.

Dominica is going to write a best selling book of poetry, in spite of the fact that no one reads poetry. She is going to change their minds, single-handedly, one at a time, and one poem at a time. It is going to be a revolution. A new 'school of poetry' named after an elite group of poets able to capture the attention of mainstream Americans. Though she doesn't know yet what it will be called.

"Institution fulfills its promise to us in different ways," says Dominica.

Then she loads up her rented U-Haul truck with the help of her mother and drives to New York.

On the way, Dominica has a panic attack in the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, and loses her wallet in a gas station bathroom on the New Jersey Turnpike.

She has rented an apartment on Staten Island. The least populated borough of New York, and the hardest one to travel to from Manhattan. As a result, none of the 'New York' friends she meets will come to visit, no one in Manhattan will want to hire her, and she will feel more isolated than a married woman living in the suburbs of Alabama. It is an irony that will not escape her.

*

One Monday morning in January of 2004, Dominica Demtrios finds herself in a state of passive nihilism.

She is substituting at a high school in Staten Island just down the block from her apartment.

It has taken her many months to get a substitute-teaching license. She is behind on her rent. She has lost weight. She is constantly worried that people consider her a bad mother for having left Jennifer behind. She has quickly realized that she cares nothing about being a 'caring' teacher.

This morning she is 'teaching' a class of academically gifted students, so they are relatively calm. They are playing a game of 'heads up 7-Up.' One of the Goth students sitting next to her is drawing a picture of a skull on her forearm with a black Sharpie pen. Dominica thinks it might be a good time to practice lying. But she can't think of anything good to say.

In her moleskin journal she writes: The active nihilist sees freedom where the passive nihilist sees absurdity or meaninglessness.

The Goth student asks what she is writing.

"A doctrine of nothingness," she replies.

"That doesn’t make you ironic," the Goth girl says, "it only makes you look like a hipster."

Dominica is wearing a thin red t-shirt that reads: Camus for Existentialism. She enjoys wearing the t-shirt but does not enjoy the fact that she enjoys wearing the t-shirt.

"When I was ten years old I found my dad’s shotgun and pointed it at my little sister’s head," says Dominica.

"My cousin died in an automobile accident last night," says the Goth girl.

"I shot a rabbit with a slingshot once just to listen to it scream," says Dominica.

"If there were no consequences, I would shoot you," says the Goth girl.

"I once found a dead body in an abandoned building in Youngstown," says Dominica.

The Goth girl smiles. "There is no more reason for a snowflake than for evolution," she says.

"My natural peanut butter won’t separate if I put it in the refrigerator," says Dominica.

"This morning a swallow had made a nest above my window," says the Goth girl.

A student throws a paper airplane in her direction. Dominica wants to be mad at the student because she feels this is how a good teacher would feel.

Dominica tries to make her mind a blank slate. She looks into space.

"What are you thinking of?" asks the Goth girl.

"There is a pattern of Anton Chekhov on your face," says Dominica.

"It is a birthmark," says the Goth girl.

Dominica's eyes follow a shaft of light penetrating the classroom. She knows what is there: a layered neatness of starveling bodies, clouds of luminescent ink, an eternal dissatisfaction with what is.

"I thought you had a daughter," says the Goth girl, "where is your daughter?"

As the bell rings she tells the class that today is a half-day for the academically gifted and they can go home. The Goth girl smiles. Then Dominica Demtrios clocks out and walks toward her apartment, smiling to herself. She will end the night feeling disappointed at the arbitrary nature of the universe.